The professor’s perspective

So I’m Pearson, I’m the professor responsible for this little enterprise, and I already introduced a bit of my educational background when opening up this very blog If you want to know more, I put a lot of time into telling that story two years ago.

If I carry that educational background story all the way back to my own high school days, it places me at Hilliard Middle/Senior High School, in far northeast Florida (so close to the Florida/Georgia line it makes me disdainful of a certain country group’s name), in the 1989 graduating class of 56 and, as near as I ever figured out, the only person in that graduating class to leave the state to go to college. I had ambitions that were different than my peers, even if I didn’t know how those ambitions would carry me straight back to rural America to work in higher education.

Tests have always fascinated me. When I first read The Big Test, I found Henry Chauncey fascinating me because of his fascination with tests. I trace that fascination to some of the earliest memories I have of school, the special times when the normal flow of classes would break and we’d take the CTBS, the achievement test battery of the California Test Bureau, published by McGraw-Hill. (The CTBS has gone through reforms since, and it’s now known as TerraNova. I suppose I’m still a little bit fascinated.)

This wasn’t a point where test results were used against teachers punitively – or, if it was, I was completely naïve and the teachers never let on. We were all encouraged to do our best, but we didn’t live under a law like No Child Left Behind that we heard about all the time. So I showed up for the tests relaxed and just allowed my fascination with the bubble sheets to take over. And I studied the score sheets when they came home, wondering how many of those 99’s I’d achieved and wondering why so many of my peers looked strange at me for talking about my 99’s, long before I knew what a percentile score was or what it represented about my talents.

Perhaps I was never stressed about tests because I was good at them. [1]

Which is why my first pass at the SAT took me so far aback. I never saw myself as lacking talents for language; I’d received praise for the extent of reading that I did and my fearlessness about going above grade level. I took the SAT in 7th grade as part of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, and I was told hitting 500 on each section was a sign of academic talent at that age. I got my certificate for hitting 530 on the math section, not that bad for somebody who had only self-taught himself algebra. I got shredded on the verbal section – only 380.

That pattern repeated itself every time I took the PSAT, and the SAT, and the GRE after that – I did better and better on the math section every time, but my verbal scores always lagged behind, despite all the reading I did and all the practice I took at creative writing. That frustrated me, especially when I took my one shot at the ACT and got relatively level scores across the board.

The idea was that the SAT and the aptitude tests like it were supposed to test…well, aptitude. I started to seriously wonder how much my ability to recognize a bunch of high-falutin’ words reflected my innate ability to do college-level and then graduate-level work.

I hold a PhD. I’m in charge of a radically diverse set of classes in what I teach at Tusculum. Apparently I recognized sophisticated words well enough.

I’m handing the words back to my students now. Tusculum, like many schools in Tennessee, puts all the college-board testing scores in terms of the ACT, not the SAT. All of my students in this seminar have had occasion to take the ACT. I wonder about their reaction to how they’ve been tested, and how their test scores were used.

Hopefully that’s enough of a segue.

[1] And, seriously: perhaps I was never stressed about tests because they weren’t as damaging a deal to me as they were to this generation of students. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on as I’ve been through this set of posts from my students is the damage that the tests have done, the joy in learning that the tests have stolen from these students. I’m hoping that there is still a bit that can be done to give some of that joy back – for their sake.


Hello From a Freshman Test Taker

My name is John, and I am currently a freshman student at Tusculum University. My current area of study is undecided with my interest focused on the realms of business, science, and history. 

My hometown is a perfect example of the small-town South, with me being born and raised in Tennessee. My schooling started out as private until 2nd grade, with me then being sent through four different public schools over my next four grades and finally settling into one public school that would see me through a steady eight years of the same friends and teachers.

My education has been largely situated around two things, making teachers happy and learning the rules of academics. This first point has taken a different outlook in the variety of different classes I have had, most significantly within English classes. I learned not to pursue my own writing style, which was inspired by the large amounts of books I constantly read as a child, but more to adapt to what each teacher wanted to see. I consistently found that this would lead to higher scores within my classes, even if myself and those I had proofread my writing had a higher view of my own personal writing rather than my work adjusted to the teacher’s preference. 

A similar fate can be seen within my experience with standardized testing, most prominently the ACT. I took my first ACT as a sophomore, a year earlier than any of my peers. My first score was relatively high compared to many of my fellow students. Over the next two years, I took the ACT six more times, improving by a total of 2 points and never dropping underneath my original score (Ask me in person for the full story on this). In the course of improving my score, I took numerous ACT practice tests, took an ACT prep class, attended school-hosted ACT camps, and worked with a tutor. Out of every single part of this instruction, all of them taught similar things: how to take the ACT. 

This included: different types of questions, how to identify them and how to most quickly and effectively answer them; which questions to skip over; the best ways to skim a passage as fast as possible; which answers to guess if one ran out of time. All of the courses I took taught this to varying degrees, something that I took to heart and dedicated myself to learning. 

While many people seem to view this as a negative factor of testing, I view it in a useful and practical, if not overly humanistic, light.

An example of this can be found within the modern workplace, where not everything is focused just on the skills and knowledge you possess, but on what your boss wants and how capable you are of providing that want. Even if this is outside of your training or knowledge, your job as an employee is to make yourself valuable and figure out how to make your task happen. My studying of how to take the ACT taught me skills that will transition perfectly into my workplace. I was not learning about the knowledge or academics that made up the questions on the ACT, I was learning how to answer them in order to get the highest end-result. 

Due to this line of thinking, I do not view my intensive study of the ACT as wasted or useless. My work earned me results, and those results earned me acceptance and rewards in the scope of college and scholarships. 


The Grand Introduction and a Perspective on Standardized Testing

Hello! My name is Aaron Phillips. I am a Sophomore this year, so I am still going strong for the most part. I have settled with Political Science as my major and am finally starting to get comfortable on where I am at. Most American institutions have some aspect of Political Science and our education system is no exception to that.

I was raised in Greeneville TN, a mostly rural community with a total of five high schools just in case some were unfamiliar to the area. My educational background was that of an extremely competitive mindset starting about Sophomore year of high school with anything less than an A as a failure and something to be immediately improved upon. This was instilled from parents that who pushed me to consider the future more than the present as well as a traditionalist curriculum at my high school which only promoted mindsets like mine. This is especially so with the ACT.

The ACT was my first true experience with standardized testing in my eyes and was the only test at the time that my high school promoted. Every year, when the juniors and seniors took the ACT, the school’s average would be announced as well as annually competing with the other four schools around the county as well as regionally at some points to promote taking the test seriously. Studying for the ACT was an absolute chore for me and along with many other factors, could personally explain my distaste for the national focus onto standardized testing. I understand why these systems are in place, but school should be for education and or preparation for the “real world” with skills that will benefit people for the rest of their lives. Focusing on standardized tests prevents students from actually gaining skills that will help them later in life and to instead focus on a test that not only will prohibit higher institutions but also fails to measure academic predictions as there are many students whose ACT scores do not reflect their GPA.

By the end of the semester, I am hoping to have a better understanding on how the current institutions got into place and have some possible solutions and or explanations for many questions I have regarding the education system.


A Standardized Experience

Hi there! My name is McKenzie Myers, and I am a senior studying psychology and English at Tusculum University. I am also part of the honors program, and my extra curricular activities this year include being an RA, Bonner leader, teacher’s assistant, intern for the campus’s Center for Civic Advancement, and I am also a peer tutor for English, psychology, and study skills. I was born in Augusta, GA, and lived there very briefly, but I was raised in Sevierville, TN, so I consider myself to be Appalachian.

Growing up, I attended a largely Christian-influenced public elementary school before graduating on to a public high school that was hardly influenced by religion: Sevier County High School. Upon graduating high school, I began attending Tusculum University, which makes me the first person in my family to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at a university.

As a person who took part in the U.S. public education system, I have experience in studying for, dreading, and completing standardized tests. My first memory of doing so, I believe, was in the first grade when we were made to do the T-CAPS. What I remember from that first experience is having difficulty filling in the bubble answers without marking the rest of the sheet, having to stay still, keep my eyes on my test, and be quiet for a long time. Of course, those four things are foreign and uncomfortable for young kids, but the behavior was enforced and it was something we had to get used to. Later on in education, it would be clear to me that this form of behavior was the norm for testing. At the time, it was something I hated simply for the fact that I loathed being told what to do, just as I do today. In a way, that shock of behavior control helped set the stage of how I think of the education system now: it is cold, distant, and inconsiderate.


A Homeschooler’s Background, Education, and Introduction to the Standardized Test

My name is Benjamin Isaiah Gall; call me Ben. I am a sophomore student at Tusculum University studying business (with accounting concentration) as my major, and I am working towards two minors in criminal justice and tax.

I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I lived in that state for 16 years out of my 20 years of life. For most of my life, my family has been relatively middle-class. I remember as a kid that we lived in suburbia for a good portion of my young life. Later, we lived with the Grandparents for almost two years during the 2008 recession after my family lost their business. However, my Dad eventually got a stable job, we lived more modestly than before, but we lived comfortably. We moved again after a series of other-at the time-unfortunate events, but we now happily live in Greeneville, Tennessee.

I have never been to public school. My parents resolved (despite economic hardships at times) to homeschool all their children because they were dissatisfied with the Omaha Public School system, which roughly had a 60-70ish% graduation rate at the time, not to mention other issues with the schools. Instead, my mom taught us one on one for our early education until we were able to begin figuring out problems on our own. From then on, we were handed educational material and left mostly to our devices, with the expectation of completing it and honestly recording our grades.

In this way, my education was perhaps peculiar. Beyond general supervision, much of my late-middle school and high school education was independent; I would do my work and finish whenever I completed my work. It was simple, but not always easy. However, as a consequence of this homeschool education, I never had to take any high-stake standardized tests.

My first experience with standardized testing was in a homeschool ACT prep class. I took the test sheets home and performed the test on myself; my first test result was an 18. My most prominent feeling before taking the actual ACT exam was intimidation; I was worried about how a single test could affect my educational career; I went on to score a 28. Afterward, I felt that the test could not truly be reflective of my actual ability. Which was my “real” score the 18 or the 28? How could I suddenly be 56% smarter than when I first took the ACT only weeks ago? The only difference is that I knew how to take the test. Beyond the single oddity of the ACT, the standardized test has been unknown to me, and its absence has not hurt me.


Standardized Testing in Northeast Tennessee

My name is Danielle Mathes, and I am currently in my third year at Tusculum University studying English Education for grades 6-12. I am from Chuckey, TN, and my educational background comes from small, public school settings. I attended a K-8 elementary school, and I graduated from Chuckey-Doak High School. While in high school, I completed dual enrollment courses at Walters State Community College and then at Tusculum University, where I later began my current course of study following graduation.

My first experience with a standardized test occurred when I was in elementary school. I can remember at an early age (probably starting in first or second grade) taking the yearly Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests. I remember, even at that age, wanting to get a high score, and as I grew older and continued taking the tests each year the desire to earn high TCAP test scores is something that did not change. I wanted to make the adults in my life, my parents and teachers, proud, and I felt that being able to show them what I learned over the course of the school year through my TCAP scores was a sure way to do that.

I would say that those first experiences with standardized tests impacted how I saw education by making it seem as though test scores were the ultimate end result. I could tell by the way my teachers presented the TCAP and emphasized the importance of making our best effort that we were under pressure to demonstrate our knowledge through those tests, and that is something that stuck with me.

As a result, for much of my elementary education, I viewed education as a preparation for testing rather than as something that served a purpose of its own. I came to realize, as I got older, that testing is not the primary reason for being given an education, but because of my past experiences as well as the continued pressure to do well, my results on standardized tests were still important to me, whether it was the TCAP in elementary school or the ACT in high school. Standardized testing was placed in a prominent position in the way I viewed education.


Standardization in Southern Appalachia

Hello, I am Estefania Juarez, and I am from a small town in East Tennessee named Greeneville! I am currently a Sophomore at Tusculum University, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender Studies. I am a first-generation college student, and I am apart of the” Bonner Leader Program” at Tusculum, which offers diverse leadership dedicated to community service! My education experience was nothing short of dull. The teachers I had played a significant role in forming my education experience. All throughout my education, teachers formed my passion for learning and inspired me to pursue a higher education.

Where I am from, we have four county high schools and one city high school. The city high school is regarded more highly than the county schools and tends to receive more funding. Since the county schools were not as highly regarded, students at the county high schools had to work extra hard to prove that their school is just as worthy, often through scores on standardized tests. My high school focused heavily on standardized testing rather than teaching to inspire and spark innovation within students. The material being taught to us was no longer centered around learning new concepts to spark growth, but rather it became more focused on how to succeed at taking standardized tests. At my high school, students were being pressured by faculty and the county school board to perform well on these tests due to their reputation being at stake.

One of the first experiences I had with standardized testing was in Elementary School. In the third grade, I vividly remember taking the TCAP test at the end of the year and feeling the pressure to get a high score at such a young age. I have always loved school and felt really passionate about learning, but as soon as TCAPs and other standardized states became the new normal, my love for education started to diminish.  The material lost its significance, and I felt like I was learning through one lens. Teachers had to compress all the curriculum in such a short period of time in order for us to pass a test. As time goes on, education has become more about learning how to take a test rather than learning for self-enjoyment. 


A Product of Public Schooling

Hello everyone. Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog. My name is Logan Mitchell. I am an Interdisciplinary Studies (e.g. Elementary Education K-5) major at Tusculum University in my junior year. I am from a small town in East Tennessee named Rogersville. I am a lifelong product of public education: I spent my thirteen school years in the Hawkins County School district. I enjoyed academic success, maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout my educational career. One of my biggest honors was giving the introductory speech at my high school graduation.

The first experience with a standardized test I remember is the TCAP in 1st grade. Back then, the state still administered the TCAP in 1st and 2nd grade. I do not remember much about the test, but it has always stuck with me that I began standardized testing at such a young age. My biggest memories of the TCAP tests in elementary and middle school were looking forward to them. The tests were usually easy for me, and there was plenty of time given to complete them. After testing each day, we got to have fun and play games. The time after the test on a TCAP day were some of my most fun memories of primary school. Upon reaching high school, however, the tests became more rigorous with the state’s implementation of the TN Ready program, based on the Common Core Standards. Furthermore, we would no longer receive free time after tests. Instead, we would simply go to our regular classes as usual.

Perhaps the most important standardized test in my career was the ACT. When I took this test for the first time during the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I remember not being able to sleep the night before. For the first time, I was nervous to take a test, although part of my anxiety may have been that I had to take the test at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, TN. Despite all this, my scores on that test were acceptable, but I was very motivated to retake the test at my high school as a junior. This go-round, I scored a 29. Knowing this score would lock me in for high-dollar academic scholarships at various local colleges, I was plenty satisfied with it. Upon further reflection, I have realized that my post-secondary education hinged greatly on how many answers in the last ten questions of each subtest were C. This is because I would always run out of time while taking each test and would quickly fill in C for the remaining problems. Although I benefited from this, I do not like the idea of one’s random answer choices on a test being a determining factor in his or her financial aid. A person’s life is too important to depend on whether they get random answers correct on a standardized test. In my opinion, the best temporary solution is to extend the time given for each subtest for the ACT or SAT. However, I strongly feel we should look at other factors besides standardized testing to determine students’ financial aid.


Pennsylvania experience

Hi! My name’s Tina Haig. I am a member of the women’s soccer team at Tusculum University and a nursing major in my sophomore year. I am from the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If I wanted to, I could drive 25 minutes and be in the city. I love where I’m from and the city of Philadelphia all together. (Go Eagles) 

I went through 12 years of the Upper Dublin School District, a public school district in Fort Washington, PA. My experience with school was pretty typical, 6 years of elementary school, then 3 years of dreaded middle school, and finally 4 years of highschool. There were different levels of classes throughout the whole time, the average level classes, below average, and the above average, or advanced classes. 

My first experience that I remember with a standardized test was in 3rd grade. It was called the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment). My teacher spent weeks preparing us for the test and constantly emphasized how important it was that we do our best on it. Now that I am older I realized that this was for funding purposes however, in 3rd grade, I just remember being so nervous to take this test because I didn’t want my teacher to get angry with me. 


The pressure of standardized testing

Hi, I am Samantha England and I am from a small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee! I attend Tusculum University where I am a sophomore currently. I am a first generation college student, I am on the bowling team, and I am a part of “Pioneer Peers” that mentor incoming freshmen. My major is political science and I am still determining what I am going to minor in. My plan after Tusculum is to attend law school with the goal of becoming a corporate attorney.

I am from a very small town called Dickson that does not have many highschools; in fact, there are only two in the entire county. We were not the most funded highschool, but my educational experience was not a dreary one. Most of my teachers were amazing and genuinely enjoyed inspiring the next generation. However, I did feel the pressure of standardized testing and to perform at a higher level. This forced the teachers to teach to the test rather than teaching the material to inspire innovation. There was material that I did not truly learn, instead, I learned enough to complete the test. 

The first experience I recall with standardized testing was in middle school when common core was first being introduced. It was confusing, unorganized, and affected how I viewed my education. I have always loved school and learning new material. However, when standardized testing was first being introduced, my love for education began to dwindle. I did not feel as if I was actually learning and retaining information; I felt that teachers were teaching us just enough to pass a test that did not have any true significance on my life. Education became about testing rather than creating an environment to inspire the next generation to be innovators. As my education continued, my view on the system became even more pessimistic.  The more standardized testing was being prioritized, the less I felt that true learning was occuring.